This Restless State
Fuel Theatre and Ovalhouse
The theatre world had no doubts about the referendum on the EU. The vote must be to remain. It was such an obvious choice, or so they believed.
Brexit was a shock. How could it have happened?
Some theatre practitioners turned off politics. Others like “Little Soldier” suggested we deal with the problem by getting together and hugging each other.
Plays like the NT’s My Country and Protein’s Border Tales tried unsuccessfully to make sense of “the defeat.”
Danielle Pearson’s engagement with the topic in her play This Restless State reflects a deep pessimism that verges on confused despair and retreat.
Three loosely connected fragments take us in a superficial way from the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 through Brexit 2016 to a dystopian future in Italy 2062.
All three strands are spoken by Jesse Fox who begins the show reflecting on Brexit with the house lights on perhaps to remind us this has a real connection to his life.
He tells us he is a child of the '90s when “anything seemed possible” and though there is now nostalgia for that time it is difficult to be optimistic.
The June 2016 vote found him jobless, crashing for three weeks in a flat where the toilet leaked into the flat below and his girlfriend had “brexitted” him the day after Brexit.
In contrast, Margot in 1989 sees the fall of the Berlin wall as a great hope. She packs her bag and leaves the drab restrictions of East Germany for a new life in the West.
By 2062, there has been some unexplained war or disaster affecting large parts of Europe. Galina wakes up in Italy on the day of a referendum.
The security forces are guarding with guns the voting booths as people cast their votes on a proposal to introduce a compulsory one child policy that seems to relate to a massive increase in migrants.
Perhaps because of her job, Galina takes a grim journey that day to a tower housing thousands of migrants.
Gradually, during the fifty-five-minute performance, we see links between the three stories. A key one is the song “Looking for Freedom” sung by David Hasselhoff at the Berlin Wall in 1989 and played then as a symbol of hope.
In 2016, it is a nostalgic link to a better time but by 2062 it has become a family heirloom preserved on cassette that no one can then play.
The stories of 1989 and 2062 indicate a long historical tragedy to the vote of June 2016. Unfortunately, they are slight and unreal. In particular, there is no explanation of why 2062 should bring us a one child policy that is so out of step with the desperate demands of employers now for more workers to deal with the shortage caused by a declining European birth rate. Perhaps the writer may have had in mind another referendum where a majority flew in the face of business and the establishment.
In the wake of the 2016 vote, the character played by Jesse goes back to his childhood home where his parents have decided that frailty and age require them to move out of their rented property. It leaves him feeling he doesn’t quite belong anywhere.
His conversational reflections on 2016 just about hold our attention but they lack dramatic tension, lead nowhere and seem to fizzle out. There is also a short riff on his career which in style seems more like an incongruous early draft of stand-up comedy.
The superficial vagueness of the piece reflects a political lack of confidence and an uneasy despair that is afraid to name the danger and instead dances round the subject of Brexit.
Matt, the partner of another press night reviewer, compared the show to someone releasing a bunch of kittens that ran off in every direction. That image captured the sense of a play with an unclear purpose beyond expressing undefined pessimism.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna